Anyone who has been in a car accident knows how harrowing the experience is. All it takes is a split second for something to happen and the impact reverberates for several days into the future. While driving, an accident could happen in several ways – another vehicle bumping into you, your vehicle bumping into another, someone having jumped in front of your car, yourself losing control of your vehicle and so on. Irrespective of the reason, the next few moments are unnerving and it takes several minutes to accept the reality of the occurrence.
Stunned that you are, as soon as the first wave of shock passes over, your next instinct is to find out what led to the incident. So you step out of the car, not exactly sure of what your forthcoming step should be and this is where you are most prone to fall into trouble. An emergency that a car accident is, it could also prove to be costly if not handled well from the outset.
If you are unsure about how to handle a car accident and its aftermath, then go through the steps that are enumerated below to educate yourself and enhance your awareness.
Assess the situation
The moment you step out of your vehicle, the first thing that you must do is to assess the situation as it stands. Is anyone, including yourself, injured, and if yes, what is the extent of injuries? Check the number of vehicles involved as also the damage caused not just to your vehicle but also to others. Force yourself to calm down and check if you might be blocking the traffic. If your vehicle is in movable condition, then take it off the road and set up flares that are visible enough to be spotted by other passing vehicles.
Under no circumstances should you admit responsibility for what happened. In case people around try to push you into admitting, just deal with them in a calm voice, telling them to postpone the discussion for later.
Check for Injuries
Car accidents may or may not cause injuries. In fact there are times when the injuries may not be immediately apparent but tend to surface a couple of days later. Whatever is the case, the recommended course of action is to call 911 and rely on the personnel to provide first aid. In the event that someone might have been gravely injured, ensure that the individual receives urgent medical care and seek help from the emergency unit to shift him/her to the nearest hospital.
Inform the Police
You must make it a point to notify the police of the incident and request them to arrive at the scene as soon as possible. When the police arrive, the onus is on you to provide them with an accurate account. At this point, you must be sure to report only facts. If asked about something that you are not sure, clarify your ignorance and refrain from fudging facts or providing wrong information. Accordingly, file a report about the accident at the nearest police station in keeping with the law of the land.
Involving the police at this stage is a good idea as it would lead to accurate documentation of the facts as also the details of drivers and vehicles involved.
Take Down Detailed Notes
Prepare your own notes wherein information that is gathered would pertain to details of other people involved like the driver and witnesses. Names, phone numbers, license plate number along with color and make of the vehicle, and insurance details must be duly recorded. If possible, also include the weather conditions and visibility. Another bit of information that should be included pertains to the location in which the incident occurred.
Do bear in mind that these notes are for your personal use and should not be subject to any kind of discussion.
This is one situation wherein a dash cam truly comes in handy. Owing to the fact that dashboard cameras function round-the-clock, chances are that they capture every moment, including an accident. In addition you can use your mobile phone to click pictures not just of the two vehicles but also of the injuries and the signposts marking the area. While a dash cam provides an overall view, a mobile phone can be relied upon to zoom onto the damaged portions and provide close-up shots.
Making a video recording of the scene is also a good idea as long as it does not interfere with the police investigation.
Exchange Information with the Other Driver
Usually it is the police that interview everyone and gather information. Only in the event that the police do not turn up or get delayed due to some reason, should you exchange information with the other driver who is involved in the accident. Amongst all the other details, do make it a point to ask for the insurance card of the other driver and check if it is valid.
Assuming that the police arrive on time and conduct investigations, at the end of the exercise they will compile it under a single report documenting the incident. This report will have a number and you must note it down for the purpose of being able to follow up the report at a later stage. On their part, the police will make it a point to provide this number to all parties involved, but you can take the initiative in acquiring it so as to be able to pursue the case for the sake of insurance.
File For Insurance Claim
Having noted the police report number and completed the formalities, it is time to get down to claiming your vehicle and personal insurance. There are two ways in which you can handle this, namely either get in touch with the insurance firm directly or get in touch with your lawyer and seek his guidance as regards your next course of action. Given the experience that professional lawyers have in this field, they will guide you as to how to deal with the insurance company to derive maximum possible monetary compensation. Alternately, you may notify the insurance firm on your own and inform them of the car accident. They will respond by sending an adjuster to assess the vehicle for damages and personal injuries, if any, before making a commitment.
Dealing with the insurance agent implies being equipped with all the information that needs to be supplied and it includes:
- Details of the car accident in terms of date, time, location, weather and visibility, and name and contact number of the police officer who visited the scene and prepared the report;
- Provide any pictures and video recordings of the incident that you might have captured through your dash cam or mobile phone, or both;
- Describe every detail as regards what happened, how it happened and strictly stick only to facts;
- Information about the other vehicle or person involved in the accident in terms of make, model, year of manufacture and registration, information pertaining to registration and license plate number or social security numbers of injured people;
- Name, address and contact information about the other driver involved;
- Other driver’s insurance information, specifically the name of the insurance company and the policy number;
During his visit, the adjustor would specifically ask for the black box of your vehicle to ascertain the cause of the accident. Purpose of the black box is to record important parameters like the speed of the vehicle, direction of the wheels, brakes, airbags, and so on. By going through the black box, the adjuster would go over the data preceding the accident and try and re-construct the scene.
However, you must be sure whether your auto insurance cover medical expenses. Not all types of auto insurance packages cover medical bills pertaining to car accidents, which is why you must clarify this with your insurance provider. In case your package lacks this provision, you will have to rely on your personal health insurance to cover the expenses incurred.
Conduct Repairs on Your Vehicle
Next, it is time to get your car repaired and for this, you can either drive to the garage or alternatively avail the services of a tow truck. This decision should be made only after assessing the extent and type of damage suffered by your vehicle. Sometimes, the damage is not immediately apparent, particularly if it is internal and out of sight. In such a situation, you would realize the problem only after you have driven a certain distance.
Since it is difficult to pinpoint the damage on the site and also the fact that you may have been too unnerved by the incident to drive yourself, calling for a tow truck is a better option. Not only would it save you the hassle of driving and give you time to calm down, but also protect your vehicle from any consequential damage, which are usually not covered under insurance claims.
At the repair shop, the mechanic will look over your vehicle and then offer his opinion as also an approximate estimate of the cost involved. For a car that has been damaged beyond repair, the mechanic would suggest that it should be declared as totaled. When that happens, you can either buy back the same vehicle or start looking for another car. Sometimes you may have to leave the car at the garage for a few days, and when that happens, make it a point to remove all your belongings including your tool box and papers.
Maintain a File
Shaken though you may be from the accident, something that you must do on the same day is to start a file wherein you can keep all the papers related to the incident. As the first step, write down the insurance claim number on top of the file in big bold letters so that you do not need additional reminders. Other details that the file should contain are name and contact details of the adjuster from the insurance firm who is in charge of your case as also the contact details of everyone else who might have been involved in the incident.
This file should also contain receipts of all the expenditure that you might have incurred so that it is easier for you to total or tally the amount while filing your claim. Any miscellaneous expenditure incurred at a later stage should also be preserved in this file.
Alert the DMV
DMV is an acronym that stands for Department of Motor Vehicles and it is a state government agency that is meant to keep a record of all motor vehicles plying within the state. Most American states require that the DMV office should be notified at the earliest when a vehicle has been involved in an accident. Failure to do so could land you into trouble with the authorities.
Time limits for reporting a car accident to DMV varies from one state to another, but it is a task which you must not keep pending. Rather than procrastinating, you must report the accident to the DMV office on a priority. And in case you are unable to do so, then ask your legal representative to do the same on your behalf.
Unprecedented though they are, car accidents are a fact of life that tend to happen once in a while despite you being extremely careful. Stressed out though you might be, do not blame or berate yourself for what might have happened. It is but natural to feel disoriented but on your part you must try your best to stay calm and remain in control of the scenario.
Bear in mind that the other driver who is involved in the accident with you is a total stranger and to this effect avoid going into a detailed discussion other than just facts. Also be prepared for the fact that the other party might try to push you into admitting that it was due to your fault. Under the circumstances, never accept or indicate responsibility for whatever happened and do not undertake any kind of commitment. Your priority should be to protect your rights and seek help from a legal representative if you have to fulfill this. An experienced attorney will also ensure that you are fully compensated in terms of repair bills as also medical expenses.
No-one wishes to get involved in a car accident, but if you do, then just keep your wits about you. Stick to facts because your objective is to safeguard your rights and get reimbursed.